Vodacom Funny Festival needs a shot in the arm

Vodacom Funny Festival needs a shot in the arm

Show: Vodacom Funny Festival
ORGANISER: Eddy Cassar
CAST: Alan Committie, Kurt Schoonraad, Kev Orkian, The Boy With Tape On His Face, Imran Yusuf, Piet Potgieter, Kagiso Mokgadi, Gamarjobat, Carl Wastie
VENUE: Baxter Concert Hall until July 7
REVIEW: Peter Tromp

The annual Vodacom Funny Festival is now in its eighth year, and as can be expected of any artistic product that has accumulated some miles over the years, a degree of déjà vu has set in for the returning audience member out for their dose of laughter therapy. Reinvention is one of the most difficult things for any artist or producer to achieve, and even the very best only manage it once or twice in a lifetime.

Organiser Eddie Cassar has brought us some unforgettable moments in the past, but this is the first Vodacom Funny Festival that felt a little strained to me. In a way Cassar, like any successful producer, is a victim of his own success. The more he pleases us, the more we expect. And we want to be surprised too, of course. But surprising audiences these days is a herculean task, especially because the internet exposed us to so much within and outside the margins.
There are a few returnees this year, specifically Gamarjobat and pianist Kev Orkian, who created such a stir at last year’s festival. The Boy With Tape On His Face is also a great addition, and his act was a real audience pleaser.

Apart from these three performers, whose sets were all dynamite (although Orkian’s was a little too similar to what he did last year), the rest was just way too predictable and tepid. Schoonraad ran a very tight set, but then it was most of the best jokes we have heard from him in the past distilled into 15 minutes or so. I’m not sure what the directive is to the performers, but I really wish local comedians would use the space to test new material instead of cramming their best bits, most of which we are all familiar with by now, into their slots.
The above mentioned returnees were all welcome, but the overlap with festivals from previous years does hint at a larger problem with the Funny Festival right now: it’s all beginning to feel a little predictable. Even last year’s host Alan Committie has returned as MC, and his handling of the event too feels a little programmatic at this stage.

This is something I never thought I’d say of Committie, who usually keeps one firmly on one’s toes with his whip-smart observations. Committie rescued a badly misjudged Fleur du Cap Awards ceremony earlier this year, mostly by making fun of what was happening on stage on the evening. Here he seemed to really struggle to find comedic fodder to feed off. When he introduced a somewhat lame new character into his act I knew that he was finding the going quite tough. The audience laughed, make no mistake; they always do when it comes to Committie. But the comedian sets very high standards for himself and I’m pretty sure he would agree that this wasn’t his finest hour.

Of course, these are just the words of a persnickety critic. Most audiences will flock, they will laugh and they will walk away feeling quite pleased, but I wonder how many of them will actually remember what they had seen. If Cassar is to maintain the artistic vitality of the festival, he will have to re-examine the format. Rule books, after all, were meant to be torn up.

* Book at Computicket.